It was a rather hectic day for the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday. Not only did the Leafs scratch and claw their way to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings in this year’s Winter Classic, they also pulled off a trade to bring in defenseman Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes, and wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk learned they’ll be representing USA at the Sochi Olympics in February.
The win gave the Leafs a slight one-point lead over the Red Wings as both teams occupy the Eastern Conference wild card spots. The more pessimistic view is the Leafs were once again badly outshot (this time 43-26) and had to rely on goaltender Jonathan Bernier to bail them out. They also blew their 11th third-period lead of this half-season, and still only have two regulation wins since November 19.
There is still much to be learned about this team as we dive headfirst into 2014 and the final 42 games of the season. Benjamin Wendorf had an interesting piece in which he made some predictions regarding a few teams for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. One of those teams is the Leafs, who he predicts will continue to plummet in the standings because of their horrible shot differential numbers. If you’re aware of so-called “fancy stats” in hockey, none of this will be new to you, but it’s still some food for thought as we gear up for the second half of the season.
When it comes to shot differential, the Leafs’ brass will no doubt be hoping the acquisition of Gleason will help them in that regard. The problem with that, is there is plenty of evidence he’s not exactly going to be a cure for what ails them. On a bad shot differential team, Gleason was the worst of the bunch.
Cam Charron of The Leafs Nation breaks down the deal further, and his final response to the whole ordeal seems to be a resounding “Meh”. It’s a swap of two overpriced contracts (with a relatively inconsequential former sixth-round pick thrown in by the Leafs), and who knows? Maybe Gleason can revert back to his pre-2013 level of play with a change of scenery. It’s no use counting chickens before they’re hatched, so I guess we’ll just have to see how this all plays out.
On the final matter of business on this snowy second day of 2014, Kessel and van Riemsdyk learned they would be making the trip to Sochi with Team USA shortly after the Winter Classic had concluded. Jonathan Willis of Bleacher Report predicts Dan Bylsma and the rest of the American coaching staff will play the two wingers together on the same line, which makes a lot of sense seeing as both players have enjoyed a lot of success playing together in Toronto.
Scott Burnside of ESPN has a very intriguing behind-the-scenes look at how Team USA’s management and coaching staff came to their decisions on the final roster, and some of the quotes are perplexing to say the least. Brian Burke says he wishes he‘d taken Jack Johnson over Bobby Ryan in the 2005 Draft? All I can say is I’m glad Burke isn’t in Toronto anymore.
One other thing: No love for Jake Gardiner? I guess it’s not much of a surprise, seeing as they left off other offensive defensemen like Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien. Have patience, Young Jake. 2018 will be your year.